Thursday, January 3, 2013

The public display

It's really difficult to be objective about romance. Most of us, whether we like it or not, feel one way or another about it. Those ways have various branches, but they fall under two distinct categories: disgust and pleasure. By disgust, I mean the feeling that romance is nauseating and should be kept behind closed doors for the benefit of others. By pleasure, I mean the notion that romantic gestures are meant to be seen, heard, felt and therefore shared.

Weirdly enough, and as much as I enjoy grouping things off into easily compartmentalized segments, I think I occupy a bit of both categories.

I account for this easily through my romantic history which has been all but glittering. I didn't start dating until late in my teenaged life, which meant I was usually on the outside looking in at other people's happy relationships. Walking around my high school was like walking through a teen romcom. There were people pressed up against stone pillars wherever you walked, all over each other before class, during break, lunch and sometimes even when the day was over.

Sometimes I think I didn't fully grasp the concept. My parents were never together when I was past my infancy. My sister and her now husband were always very sly about their displays of affection. No PDA for them, which was something to be admired considering they were together through their prime hormonal years (middle and high school).

What I did grasp was how annoying it was to see people all over each other in the cafeteria. There's a time and a place, and it should be inside a room with the shades drawn so that no one else is forced to watch.

For a long time, even when I started dating, I maintained this perspective on things. With my first few "boyfriends" (and I use the term loosely because even now I'm not quite sure if I properly DTR-ed with most of my "significant others") I'd occasionally exchange a kiss in public, but it was always more a peck than anything. Holding hands occurred on occasion, but not all the time. I felt almost embarrassed by it. If I hated it so much when other people did it, what gave me the right to be all lovey dovey in public? And did I even want anyone to see me being that way? It felt extra impersonal for some reason.

Over a long while, my inhibitions started to decrease. I still, and this will sound strange I admit, felt a little uncomfortable holding hands in public. It was a nice gesture, but it felt almost too intimate to be witnessed by others. For this, I will happily accept the title of "prude," I've long been known as one.

But my reasoning for this is that the very first time I had a boy grab at my hand and hold it while walking, it was one of the most spectacular butterfly-inducing experiences of my life. It sounds silly, I'm sure, but in the same way my first dance with a boy turned me into a giddy young teenager, holding hands with someone I fancied totally sent me over the edge. And is it really right to include everyone walking past me in the opposite direction in such a special moment? I guess holding hands isn't as big a deal for everyone else.

The point of my argument, however, is not to debate the relative significance of hand-holding to various members of dating society. It is, rather, about whether it's a good thing to share any public displays of affection, and how those feelings change in time.

Because up until this point, I've only really told you about my prudishness, and how I never wanted anyone to know I was dating someone or to watch me be publicly romantic with that person.

Things are different now, though.

You could call it a steady change since I can't tell you an exact moment when I realized that I didn't mind being the subject of scrutiny as someone who participates in (a mild form of) PDA. But it happened, and I think it coincided with me finally liking someone without worry, without inhibitions and without an expectation that the relationship would end.

I don't often like to admit it; in fact, I'm not sure I've ever even addressed it on here, but when I started dating, I stuck to a very valuable mantra. As soon as I started seeing someone, I asked myself whether I thought I could peacefully exit the relationship. As it turns out, that is exactly how I have felt with most of the people I've seen.

Even if that didn't amount to much when it came down to being broken up with, I still think there's something to be said about how you feel with someone whom you can anticipate feeling sad about losing versus someone for whom you could care less.

Being in a stable relationship now, and perhaps for the first time in my life, I do find myself changing my opinion quite a bit. I still become annoyed when I see other people groping in public, but when that special boy grabs my hand in public, I'm not one to protest.

It's kind of fascinating, the way our opinions can change (in what appears to be a pretty hypocritical way) according to our circumstances. Yet, I do believe I'll never arrive at the liberality of so many of my high school peers. Maybe it is the prude in me, or maybe I have higher standards. Either way, I'm glad to have turned a page in some ways but not all.

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